This post about The Crowded Room discusses difficult topics including but not limited to self-harm, mental illness and child sexual abuse. Also, spoilers.

Content warnings, trigger warnings, whichever you prefer, are controversial. Also controversial is Apple TV+’s The Crowded Room. The scientific jury is out on whether trigger warnings are useful. And The Crowded Room has a 33 percent critic score on Rotten Tomatoes while holding a 91 percent audience score. I fall on the side of both being good. 

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But I’m not here to defend The Crowded Room or Tom Holland‘s Emmy-worthy performance (Reddit‘s already done a pretty decent job of that). Heck, I’m not even here to defend content warnings in general. No, I’m here to praise Apple TV+ for giving its audience the proper heads-up about the tough stuff and doing said tough stuff pretty well.

Adequate Warning

Season 1, Episode 9, “Family,” opens with a black screen and white words declaring, “The following contains a depiction of self-harm. Viewer discretion advised.”

I am someone who needs this warning, and were I not so frigging obsessed with this show, or if I’d been in a bad mood, I might have skipped the episode. In any case, knowing what was to come helped me prepare my mind and body. And that may seem silly to some, but being empowered to make the choice to watch someone hurting themselves means a lot. 

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After all, there is a social contagion element to self-harm, especially among teens and young adults (Though this series is rated MA, you know kids are watching because Spiderman himself is starring!). Further, one study at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, found that photos of self-harm triggered a not-insignificant portion of people with a history of self-harm. If images of self-harm can set people off, we need content warnings for them. 

A white man (Tom Holland) in his 20s with medium-length brown hair stares almost into the camera. The lighting is bright, but the background is dark.

Tom Holland on The Crowded Room (Apple TV+)

Bark vs. Bite

I commend Apple TV+ and The Crowded Room for having the trigger warning, but I also have to applaud them for how they depicted self-harm itself. I’ve watched shows where not only was there no warning, but the subsequent images were extremely graphic, focusing on the violence and sensationalizing the act rather than the person or the cause.

In The Crowded Room, the camera stays on Danny (Holland) during the entire incident, and the “only” blood we see is at the end of the scene as the camera pulls back. Even then, it’s not the focus of the shot. This lack of focus on the violence the character is perpetrating against himself allows the viewer to hone in on what’s important: his pain.

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The scene isn’t obscene, giving us just enough to ensure we know what’s going on without overplaying it. The show handles most of its most brutal subject matter similarly. We don’t see Danny being sexually abused — we don’t have to; we shouldn’t. If we did, the whole conversation would become, “Oh my goodness did you see what The Crowded Room DID?” (Not to mention the ethics of submitting a child actor to such a scene… )

Case in point: Holland’s sex scenes with other male actors (Elijah Jones and Stephen Barrington) have eclipsed so much of the narrative around this show. And most commentary about the scenes doesn’t even understand the context

(As an aside, this is one of the first recent shows this epileptic has seen with decent flashing light warnings.)

Basically… 

Big media companies don’t often get it right. But sometimes they do. I know that many people with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) have criticized The Crowded Room‘s portrayal of DID (others have praised it). So I won’t speak to that. However, Apple TV+ and The Crowded Room have gotten sensitivity and content warnings right. And for that, a big round of golf claps to one of the world’s largest corporations

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By the by, every episode ends with a black screen and white words saying, “If you or someone you know needs support, go to apple.com/heretohelp.” Yes, Apple TV+ has an entire webpage dedicated to crisis hotlines.

What Should Other Media Learn?

At the end of the day, content warnings are a wise business decision. If you warn people about what they are about to watch, the decision to do so is now in their hands. It reduces liability. Cold hard capitalism? Sure. But it still benefits the consumer. Frankly, I wonder why more media companies haven’t boarded this train.  

What do you think about content warnings? Have you watched The Crowded Room? Sound off in the comments below. 

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